Monday, September 21, 2009

The Holy Cross

Today marks the leavetaking of the feast The Elevation of the Holy Cross. We are fortunate to elevate and venerate the Holy Cross every week at our parish. An icon-styled crucifix stands behind the altar, reminding us constantly of the center of our salvation - as our priest put it. At the end of the Liturgy, as we all leave, we each get to go forward and kiss the cross that our priest holds and has used to bless the congregation. But chiefly we venerate the cross each Liturgy in the Eucharist: both in being offered in Christ (Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee for Thine own) and in receiving Christ's Body and Blood.

The Elevation of the Holy Cross, though, is a special feast day. Here we venerate not merely the notion that our Lord was crucified, but that our Lord, the Holy One of Israel, has sanctified all that He assumes. And on the cross He assumes death - sanctifying it unto life, and suffering - sanctifying it unto glory, and in so doing sanctifies all creation in Him through His Blood shed and His Body broken.

So the Holy Cross - this instrument of suffering and death, upon which the Savior's Blood flowed and into which His Body was ground - is sanctified with the sanctity of Christ Himself.

Here is a quote from our Church Bulletin, retelling the account behind the feast day:

Underneath the Basil, the Cross of Christ was found, but with it were the other two crosses, those used to crucify the two thieves on either side of Christ. The sign with the inscription, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews", also lay among the three crosses. In order to determine which one was the true cross, a sick woman was told to kiss each of the three crosses. The woman kissed the first cross with no result. She kissed the second cross and again nothing happened. However, when the ailing woman kissed the True Cross, she was immediately made well. It so happened that a funeral procession was passing that way, and so the body of the dead man came to life – thus the name the "Life-Giving" Cross, which gives life not only to that man, but to each person who believes in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and His all-glorious three day Resurrection.

Here is highlighted the true glory of the feast day: be it wood, a thief, Death, or man, all are overwhelmed by the sanctification by which our Lord saves us. Dead wood, used to inflict harm and death, becomes Life-bearing and life-giving. The thief finds his condemnation sanctified by mercy and enters into Paradise. Death is sanctified by the Savior's death and is trampled underfoot. Man is sanctified by the Incarnate One and rises in Victory over the Enemy and sits in glory at the right hand of God.

The Feast of the Holy Cross is very special and very important. The historical circumstances remind us again - not through accident (for there is no accident, only Providence) - what that special work of salvation is which the Lord Christ would work in us every day until He returns in glory. Kyrie eleison.

Afterfeast Hymn:
Kontakion - Tone 4
As You were voluntarily raised upon the cross for our sake,
Grant mercy to those who are called by Your Name, O Christ God;
Make all Orthodox Christians glad by Your power,
Granting them victories over their adversaries,
By bestowing on them the Invincible trophy, Your weapon of Peace.

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